Saturday, January 30, 2010

Slowly, Slowly, Reality Starts to Set In At University of Minnesota

[or does it?]

From the Pioneer Press:

U won't fight alcohol ban at TCF Stadium

Board of Regents has more pressing legislative priorities, chairman says

A state law that prompted an alcohol ban at the new TCF Bank Stadium had U officials fuming last year, with some vowing to push for a redo in this year's Legislature.

But with the legislative session starting next week, the issue appears dead.

"We have no plans to do anything on that," Board of Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said of a push to revisit the law. "We're not interested in doing anything with that whatsoever."

Regents approved the sale of liquor in premium seating areas of the stadium in 2008, but they banned it the next year after the Legislature forbade selling alcohol in any part of the stadium unless it was sold throughout.

At the time, since they didn't want to make liquor generally available for sale at an on-campus stadium, some regents said they felt the law forced them into a ban they didn't want. The idea was to live with the law for a year and then ask lawmakers to rethink their position.

Regent Dean Johnson, a former majority leader of the state Senate, said in June that U officials needed to reach out to legislators and the governor to "try to renegotiate, if you will, this particular law." Johnson did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Regent David Larson said Friday that he still thinks lawmakers were wrong to intervene the way they did and that the move cost the university money. But he said he's not sure the time is right to revisit the issue.

"Frankly, we have not discussed that as a large group," he said.

The $288.5 million, 50,800-seat stadium opened last year, bringing football Saturdays back to campus. While alcohol was sold throughout the team's old home in the Metrodome, the idea was to make it available only in the premium seats at TCF Bank Stadium.

Regents were counting on luxury suites to generate significant revenue over and above what the university was making in the Metrodome, Larson said.

Access to alcohol was part of the sales pitch for those premium seats, and had regents known what the Legislature was going to do, they likely would have spent less on the suites, he said.

The decision whether to push lawmakers to reconsider the ban will depend in part on how much the no-alcohol policy hurt revenues in the first season, Larson said.

U officials said Friday that updated revenue numbers are not available, but the estimate they've been using for months is that the alcohol ban would cost about $1 million in premium-seat revenue. The ban applies to the university's nearby Williams and Mariucci arenas as well as TCF Bank Stadium.

The regents meet again next month, and Larson said he doesn't think the subject is settled yet.

"I suspect that it probably will come up," he said.

For the time being, asking the Legislature to reconsider its all-or-nothing sales rule "has not been on the agenda and is not," U spokesman Daniel Wolter said in an e-mail. "(U President Robert Bruininks) has said he considers it a closed matter and the Legislature has spoken.


So is it a closed issue or not, folks?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Michele Bachmann has her way with TERI

From Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine:

Are you talking about public education’s obsession with multiculturalism?

Your perfect example is from the University of Minnesota’s school of education—their new standard (3) . . . a prescribed level of indoctrination that students [are tested on] in order to matriculate. That’s wrong. The state should not impose a value system in order to receive a teaching certificate. That’s a First Amendment issue.

(3) Bachmann is referring to TERI, the Kubrickian-sounding Teacher Education Redesign Initiative. Its mission statement: “TERI will add focus to our efforts in four areas: preparation for work with special education students, preparation for work with English language learners, development of cultural competence, and preparation for working effectively with families and communities.” Cultural competence is a large gray area—not the congresswoman’s favorite color.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Least Deadly Hospitals in Minnesota?

From a recent piece in Forbes:

Some regional hospitals do a better job preventing fatal complications than famous academic medical centers.

The following hospitals were designated as among the best hospitals in the country by HealthGrades, a hospital rating company based in Golden, Colo. Their low complication and mortality rates for a variety of procedures place them in the top 5% of hospitals nationwide, HealthGrades says. For more information about how HealthGrades compiles its ratings, please visit


Fairview Ridges Hospital, Burnsville

Fairview Southdale Hospital, Edina

North Memorial, Robbinsdale

Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital, Minneapolis

Saint Cloud Hospital, Saint Cloud

Saint Luke Hospital, Duluth

Unity Hospital, Fridley

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Share the Sacrifice

from the Minnesota Daily

Amidst widespread cuts over the summer, faculty and staff at the University of Minnesota College of Design took the phrase “shared sacrifice” seriously. To prevent layoffs, five of the College of Design’s top staff took a dramatic 10 percent decrease in salary, saving the University $115,000. Seeing high-paid staff sharing the burden of cuts is refreshing, and we should see more of it. That is exactly what the clerical workers’ union — AFSCME Local 3800 — and others demanded last Thursday at their “chop from the top” rally.

The numbers are striking: 254 University employees have salaries (not total earnings) of over $200,000.

Besides straight salary cuts, the University could afford to consolidate its central administration. We have 40 employees with “vice president” in their title. Their collective salary amounts to $8.4 million, equivalent to the combined yearly tuition revenues of nearly 750 in-state undergraduates or the salaries of 84 faculty (at $100,000 per year).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert Parker Passes

From the Boston Globe:

He was teaching English at Northeastern University when he began writing the novels featuring Spenser, whose first name is never revealed. Mr. Parker didn’t care for academia and made no secret of his animosity in his first book’s first sentence:

“The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.’’

Friday, January 15, 2010

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

A Preview of Coming Attractions...

Governor Pawlenty Sets Bonding Priorities for the State

And remember, the governor almost always gets what he wants in the final bonding bill. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist or a university president to figure out why.

From the Pioneer Press:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Friday proposed borrowing $685 million for a relatively modest public works program that provides no money for local projects, athletic or arts facilities or anything else he considered nonessential.

It is the smallest bonding bill the Republican governor has proposed. The average price tag for public works bills over the past 10 years has been $725 million.

But this one may grow. The chairs of the House and Senate capital investment committees, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said the Democrats who control the Legislature still intend to pass a nearly $1 billion bonding bill early this session, which starts Feb. 4.

Nearly half the money would go to preserving existing buildings and other structures.

"Taking care of what we have is our first priority, rather than building something new," state Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said.

State colleges and universities would get the largest share of the funding, 30 percent. The University of Minnesota would get $100 million; the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would receive $93 million.

The bulk of the U funding would go for the physics and nanotechnology building in Minneapolis. It would replace the physics building, which was built in 1923 and lacks adequate and up-to-date lab space for research, said Steven Crouch, dean of the U's Institute of Technology.

The new building would house research laboratories, not classrooms, Crouch said.

For state colleges and universities, more than half the funding Pawlenty proposed is earmarked for "asset preservation," such as repairing windows and roofs and replacing heating and electrical systems.

Langseth [Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon] said Pawlenty's proposal for those schools is "way low. He's coming in with less than one-third of their request. Those things have all got to be done. Now is the time we can be doing them the cheapest and putting unemployed people to work."

Hausman [Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul] agreed. "We should take advantage of the one positive in bad economic times, which is bids come in low and low interest rates," she said.

But House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said the price tag for Pawlenty's plan is "a little bit high" and predicted Republicans would try to pare it down.

Executive summary:

We've seen this all in the past.

The governor usually gets what he wants, at least while there are enough Republicans in the legislature to make an override of his veto unlikely. Zeller's comments make this seem virtually impossible.

So working on the assumption that the final figure will be in the area of $700 mil, the question is how to spend the money in the most intelligent way. I don't think the governor has done this.

The priorities for money being spent at the U of M are - as usual - out of whack. We will see how much President Bruininks is in favor of supporting our educational mission by whether he is willing to delay the nano building in favor of doing right by Folwell. It is hard for higher ed, under the circumstances, to claim that the governor has not done right by them, given their 30% cut of the funding.

I suggest that using some of the budget for nano planning and some for finally doing the right thing for Folwell - something that our president has avoided for the past three years.

Don't hold your breath. Leadership and the ability to adapt to reality have been in short supply in Morrill Hall since 2002.

Added Sunday, Jan 17, from Rochester Post-Bulletin:

Pawlenty warned political opponents in the Legislature not to send him a bonding bill greatly different than what he has proposed, saying he would reject such a bill entirely.

"They shouldn't count on the fact that it's just going to be line-item vetoed down," he said.

Given the fact that the governor is now playing to a national audience, this threat is credible.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dave Durenberger on the University of Minnesota and Conflict of Interest

(From his January 14, 2010 commentary)

The medical ethics debate goes on as some individuals and institutions adopt a zero tolerance policy where personal advantage and professional advice are involved. And others insist they cannot be unduly influenced and can draw their own lines. Conflict of interest rules at Partners Healthcare in Boston (Harvard's two medical school hospitals) are tough on medical researchers. No speakers' fees from drug companies. Top scientists serving on medical technology company boards are limited to $5,000 per meeting. Few other medical schools are this strict. Said Tom Donaldson, who teaches business ethics at Wharton, "It strikes me as a breath of fresh air in a room that's getting progressively more stale."

Why do you suppose that's the case? Most likely, because university medical schools depend financially on attracting faculty members whose clinical research, more than their clinical or educational performance, attracts large numbers of research grants from public and from private sources. The University of Minnesota medical school is way over its head in debt despite having the highest public med school tuition in the nation. It thinks it must build bio-science buildings and recruit reputed medical researchers to bring in research money. It can't get to zero tolerance on appearance of conflict policies, because too many medical researchers depend on income from device or drug companies.

I believe financial support for my work in the Senate from those affected by my work never influenced my professional performance because I depended for support on so many with conflicting stakes in my outcomes. Yet, I became a poster boy for money as the appearance of conflict. My constituents, like Dr. Polly's patients, for example, can't discern whether I'm unduly influenced by - as in Dr. Polly's case - Medtronics money.
Central Corridor Light Rail

Yet another opportunity
for foot dragging at
the University of Minnesota?

From MPR:

The Obama administration is changing a decision-making rule that has long rankled transit advocates. The rule change would allow the FTA to factor in livability as it awards federal money for a project and it could affect the Central Corridor light rail project.

After Secretary LaHood announced the rule change, FTA administrator Peter Rogoff singled out the Central Corridor project as one that would've been designed differently if livability factors had been considered.

"That project is specifically not building stations in a fashion that troubles us from a civil rights perspective because it is not going [to] adequately serve the African American community and the Asian community," Rogoff said.

Central Corridor planners did not originally include stations at Hamline, Victoria and Western avenues, locations popular with some residents.

Bell said he's not sure how adding livability to the federal transit funding formula might affect the Met Council's negotiations with the University of Minnesota over the U's worries about how light rail vibration and electronic interference will affect sensitive lab equipment near the line. University officials weren't immediately available for comment.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Holding Higher Education Accountable

From Time:

Kevin Carey, policy director at the Washington think tank Education Sector, believes that many colleges do a bad job of

1) teaching students and

2) getting them to graduate.

An essay he wrote for the December issue of Democracy is making waves in the higher-ed world because it describes how a lot of colleges are keeping student-assessment data confidential. He spoke with TIME education correspondent Gilbert Cruz about why parents — and public officials — should demand more accountability from colleges. Virtually no college assesses how much students learn in any subject and publishes data in a way that would allow you to compare it with other colleges. That information simply does not exist.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about the University of Nebraska at Omaha — there's the University of Nebraska, which is the one with the football team, and Omaha is the commuter campus. The Omaha campus administered the Collegiate Learning Assessment, and when they issued a press release saying, "We did really, really well," they were yelled at and condemned by a lot of people in higher ed for doing something that was inappropriate.
Academic Myths and the Presidents Who Perpetuate Them

A Call for Real Shared Governance

[Twitter: added later in the day:

wbgleason RT @presidentgee Met today with faculty leaders. They are true partners—-visionary teachers and scholars. }Pres Bruininks? #UMN #Minnesota

At least one BigTen president gets it...]

From the Chronicle

(by Steven Bahls, President of Augustana College, Rock Island)

As president of Augustana College, I live in two worlds: that of higher education, and that of the "outside world" beyond campus borders. For decades I have listened to alumni, parents, local residents, and even complete strangers express their opinions about academe—often while reciting certain derogatory myths regarding college professors. On occasion, I even hear my presidential colleagues doing the same. Popular complaints include:

Managing professors is like herding cats.

When it comes to making tough decisions, faculty members want merely to be asked to be included in the process, but have no desire to actually participate.

There's really only one way to work with the faculty: Find the path of least resistance and proceed accordingly.

Faculty members are professional contrarians, and the academy rewards them for it by giving them tenure.

When you finally give in to the contrarians, they can't take "yes" for an answer.
Such myths are as dangerous as they are demeaning, as caustic as they are comical, and can be as incendiary as they are inaccurate. The worst of them may be the notion that faculty members are irrepressible contrarians: Not only is that view disparaging, but it ignores the time-tested benefits of shared faculty governance, an essential institution at today's colleges and universities that is badly misunderstood by the outside world.
Professors must be empowered to participate in and shape the outcomes of policies, procedures, and long-term decisions, for a very pragmatic reason: Faculty members often are the ones who have to carry them out.
When institutions fail, it is often because they have strayed from their values. Think of the financial institutions that have failed recently because they strayed from their traditional role of sound stewardship to one of reckless speculation. What if AIG had had a few more contrarians in the governance process?
It is our tenured faculty members, most of whom have made life-long commitments to our institutions, who are the first to remind us of those institutions' values. It is those values that sustain our commitment to quality in good times and bad. Because shared governance in the academy has historically led to thoughtful decisions consistent with long-held institutional values, our colleges and universities are among the oldest institutions in the nation.

And the economic downturn has made our focus on faculty governance all the more important,
as the traditional domains of their responsibility include faculty salary policies, involvement in academic budgeting, and strategic planning. For that reason faculty members have a place at the table when difficult topics arise. We aren't bringing the opinions of professional contrarians into the fold; we are bringing our best minds and strongest resources to bear in our decision making during the most challenging time for higher education since World War II.
Presidents and board chairs must work aggressively with board members to better communicate just how important faculty members are to their work in governance. We must motivate and engage our faculty members—not simply manage them—in our strategic-planning processes. Trustees can affirm the value of professors through their actions in the boardroom and through the policies they establish on their campuses.